the small faces

All or Nothing: The Mod Musical

Malvern Theatres

*****

ALL or Nothing is a high energy production written and produced by Carol Harrison, and directed by Tony McHale.

Although promoted as a ‘Mod Musical’, and obviously appealing to music lovers of that genre, the music in the production and indeed of The Small Faces strays far beyond mod boundaries, so I do wonder whether the tagline unwittingly limits its reach in terms of audience.

That said, All or Nothing played to a full house in Malvern, and rightly so.

Despite being based on the life and music of The Small Faces, All or Nothing focuses more on the band’s troubled frontman Steve Marriott. Indeed, the entire proceedings are watched over and narrated by an older version of Marriott, played brilliantly by TV regular Chris Simmons.

Simmons’ character adds depth and pathos as he wanders through scenes, sometimes interjecting, sometimes merely spectating, but always with a drink in his hand. Simmons’ stage presence was striking and at times I found myself watching only him as he sat motionless despite the action playing out around him on stage.

Writer Harrison plays the character of Marriott’s mum, and in both roles he repeatedly returns to the question of whether, if things had taken a different turn, Marriott could ever have found his happy ending. I’m afraid that the answer was always going to be no. To create such a feel-good production whilst embracing the unavoidable spectre of self-destruction is no mean feat, and the cast must take their share of credit for this.

Following on from highlights of Marriott’s teenage years (reportedly setting fire to his school, then starting off down a seemingly promising career path in acting) we see how The Small Faces formed in 1965 in East London. The younger version of Steve Marriott is played by Tim Edwards, who along with his fellow band members plays and sings live, which for me elevates such a production far beyond a musical with pre-recorded backing tracks.

Ronnie Lane (bass and vocals) is played by Joshua Dowen, with Drew-Levi Huntsman as Kenney Jones on drums. Vocalist and keyboard player Jimmy Winston (portrayed by Joseph Peters ) seemed to continually clash with Marriott, perhaps seeking too much of the limelight, and was soon unceremoniously replaced by Ian McLagan (Matthew Churcher).

Peters was highly watchable as the cool and stylish keyboard player and I was disappointed to see his character thrown out of the band. I was very happy then that Peters returned to play other characters including unscrupulous manager/producer Andrew Oldham, founder of the Immediate record label.

Oldham’s quirks pale into insignificance however when compared to the band’s first manager, Don Arden at Decca, played with menace and humour by Russell Floyd (Eastenders, The Bill). Because of these two and their crooked deals, despite the hits and fame and girls, The Small Faces were never paid a decent wage, and were at points faced with huge tax bills and apparent debts to cover recording and production time. The easy access to drugs and alcohol took their toll, and Marriott in particular seems to have been torn between material success, artistic freedom and the desire to be taken seriously as a musician.

Alongside the story, the evening is of course lifted by much loved hits such as Afterglow, All or Nothing, Rene, Here Comes the Nice, Whatcha Gonna Do About It and my favourites Lazy Sunday and Itchycoo Park. There are a few romances, but it seemed a shame that there were not more strong female characters in the production.

Marriott’s love life sounds spectacularly messy in real life so his three wives and four children are glossed over in this version of the story, and we are left to guess why things don’t work out with PP Arnold (Dami Olukoya) and whether things stay rosy with Rod Stewart’s old flame Jenny (Sophia Behn). Special mention goes to Daniel Beales for his marvellous presence as Tony Blackburn, Stanley Unwin and Sonny Bono amongst other characters.

Overall this is a wonderful production, full of vibrancy and all the excitement of the sixties but tinged with the darkness of exploitation and excess. It took The Small Faces decades to receive the royalties they were owed and for some of them it was too late. Despite their chart success, Marriott never seemed to find contentment, but his contribution to the world of music is recognised by musicians and stars of every ilk.

Marriott’s daughter has praised this production, stating that her dad would be proud of the show. The writer’s love of Marriott and his music is obvious, and the show is a fitting and respectful tribute to his memory. Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake is on my turntable as I write. I suggest you dust off your copy now.

Amy Rainbow

12-10-16

All or Nothing: The Mod Musical moves on from Malvern to Reading, Wycombe and Cardiff.

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